Organizing Nerd Needs

Image By Mike Collins

Yes, yes, your computer, smart-phone, whatever, keeps you completely organized, I know. But if you are like me, there is something about paper, stickers, pencils, and organizers on my desk that is more FUN! And putting some of my favorite geeky themes on those organizing tools makes it even MORE FUN! I recently puttered around the web finding cool things for myself and my family. Here are some of my favorites:

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This is my new favorite site, and I had a hard time picking one item to share: The ghost sticky-notes. You can see through them and write on them! And they’re so cute! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but I love these!

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How about a Star Wars cozy mug organizer? This is genius: it keeps your beverage warm, and while you walk around, you have all your things in it too!

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Cords all over my desk are a pet-peeve, so here is a nifty way to keep ’em tight- with a ninja!

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Eeek! “A Little Golden Book: WONDER WOMAN” Planner / Journal. The original book has been upcycled into a nifty planner — what a great and geeky idea!

I always keep a notebook in my purse for my fabulous ideas (ah-hem), and this one should strike fear in all who know manga…

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Ok. I don’t technically need anymore erasers (I made my husband buy me adorable mushroom ones with faces for my birthday last year…) but brains! Brains!

And finally, when you need to chill out during the day, do it the Sherlock way…Sherlock: The Mind Palace: A Coloring Book Adventure

Keep Kids Creating With ‘The Superhero Comic Kit’!

Kids love to create and come up with some of the most ingenious stories and drawings. They don’t always follow the kind of progression that adults come to expect, and setting them off on their creative journey while they are young will help them continue to be creative as they grow. It’s important to capture this development, but sometimes they (or you) run out of ideas for what to have them do. Continue reading Keep Kids Creating With ‘The Superhero Comic Kit’!

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

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Image: Scholastic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Summer is waning. Even here in North Carolina, where the hot season tends to linger a little longer than I’d like, we’ve had hints of autumn. My daughter just started preschool, and my son is back to school next week. But they had some great times this summer—we traveled, we relaxed (well, at least they did), and we immersed ourselves in some great books.

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

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Image: Energizer

Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents, fuel their ambitions, and set them up for future success. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning.

Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more! Everyone who plays can also download free digital stories for their family.

Refrain from Brain Drain

The summer is almost over, but thankfully the Power Up and Read Summer Reading Challenge has you covered. Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire has 5 easy tips for making reading a priority for your child, like setting a weekly minutes goal, reserving special time to read together as a family, and celebrating reading accomplishments. It’s not too late to get your kids reading.

More Reading Resources

Scholastic has joined together with ENERGIZER® to power the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge and encourage families to find innovative ways to discover the power and joy of reading. It’s not too late to take part! Now through September 4th, visit Scholastic.com/Summer. Click the links below for a sampling of the fun resources you’ll find with Scholastic:

#SummerReading

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

The Depths of The Riverman Triology

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Image By Farrar Straus Giroux Press

“Aargh!” I yelled.
My son poked his head out of his room, “You finished the second book, right?”
“Yes!”
“It’s so good, right?”
“YES!!”
“And now we have to wait for the third book!”
“Aaaaaaargh!”

This is about The Whisper, the second book in the The Riverman trilogy by Aaron Starmer. My teen son was in-between books, saw The Riverman on our shelf, devoured it, read The Whisper, and asked, “Where’s the third one?” I let him know it wasn’t out yet. That’s when he let out his own sigh of frustration, and then told me to read the books so at least we could discuss them.

These books are ones you will want to talk about.

Now before I get into the ever-moving plot, the complex characters, the imaginative worlds-within-worlds, I want to talk about Starmer’s writing. There are plenty of modern YA authors who are good storytellers, but not so many are good writers. Aaron Starmer is an intelligent writer that paints pictures with his words.

“Cars moved slowly, as if they weren’t really going anywhere. They were nothing but steel wolves, out roaming.”

“The spot where her nose had been broken all those years ago—that knobby bit of cartilage right below her eyes—made me imagine that a tiny asteroid had crashed into her face and had determined the orbit of her life. She probably hated that asteroid, but to me it was essential.”

“Your mind is constantly wishing, even if you don’t realize it.”

In the first book of the series, the main character, twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary, wonders what is real or not; what’s the story behind the story? The reader is waiting along with him. Fiona Loomis, his neighbor, has decided he should write her biography. She tells him about traveling to a magical world where imagination rules, where storytellers can see creations come to life around them, where children are gods. It is called Aquavania.

“In Aquavania you can create anything your mind can think up. You’d be surprised what your mind can’t create. It’s often the things you really need.”

Fiona describes the worlds she creates: creatures, landscapes, impossible things. Then she tells of other children imagining their own ridiculous, outlandish, weird creations. But the story Fiona tells Alistair has a dark edge, and she truly believes children are in danger, including herself. He decides that either Fiona is crazy, or hiding a terrible truth behind the fantasy. Can Alistair keep a secret? Should he? Does he truly understand what is going on? You will be guessing alongside him until the end. The next book ends with another twist to this tale. It’s a great ride.

“Well,” Charlie replied, setting down the controller, “the most powerful monsters are the ones that don’t even seem like monsters. They’re the little things, the soft things that sneak in and haunt you.”
“Ghosts?” Alistair asked. “That might be a good title.”
Charlie shook his head. “Whispers.”

Alistair is one of the most real and likable characters I’ve met in a long time. Too often, writers are unable to create young characters that are both heroic and true to their age. Alistair cares about people, he has a strong sense of right and wrong, and his need to help is genuine. But how to show he cares, seeing the gray areas in choices, and figuring what is the best way to help, are a struggle that is depicted honestly through this young man’s actions, words, and thoughts. His weaknesses frustrate him, but he doesn’t know how to change fast enough to keep up with the problems and events happening all around him. That’s relatable to all ages. Besides Alistair, the novel is full of characters that are conflicted, flawed, changing, and all too recognizable.

“He’s not a bad guy, deep down,” I said.
My dad slipped the key into the door. “Deep down, no one is. But you make choices.”

I recommend this for twelve and up. Kids younger than that can enjoy the story, but much is implied, things get dark, and the headier stuff will be appreciated more by an older reader. I can’t say much about the plot of The Riverman or The Whisper without giving everything away, which makes it hard to review, so you’ll have to trust me (and my son) on this: It’s very, very good.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Where Will Your Roadmap Take You?

Image: Chronicle Books
Image: Chronicle Books.

What is it that makes you happy?

I came into my own during the What Color Is Your Parachute? generation, or at least at the tail end of it. When I wasn’t sure what to do with my life, career-wise, I got a copy of that book and worked my way through it. It wasn’t much help. See, I didn’t know what made me tick yet. I didn’t know what I was passionate about. I couldn’t even identify my hobbies. One of the hazards about being a Jane of All Trades, Mistress of None, is that your interests and talents aren’t always clearly identified. It is often only clear in hindsight.

I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was in my thirties. Like, my mid-thirties. Now that I’m in my early forties, I know what my short- and long-term life goals are, so I’m pretty well set there. A lot of experimenting and thinking helped me figure it out. But what about my kids? One of them has very clearly defined interests. The other one, definitely not. But both of them can benefit from some direction, some help along the way, and some encouragement to realize that life’s a journey. Everything you do along the way counts.

I recently learned about a book called Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life, by the people who created the documentary series Roadtrip Nation. The book’s premise is that it exists to help people find their own road in life, find one that fits them and their needs, wants, and desires, and is decided upon by both their head and their heart.

The book begins by encouraging people to figure out if they are doing what they do because they want to be doing it, or because everyone else is doing it and it’s what is expected of them. Then it moves on to talk about the external “noises” in life, and helps readers decide which noises to listen to and which to ignore.

Later chapters have titles with clear purposes, such as “Build a Life, Not a Resume,” “Life Is Linear Only in the Rearview Mirror,” “Pursue Your Interests—Not an Occupation,” “Risk or Regret? You Choose,” and “When to Veer and When to U-Turn.” Each chapter includes really useful information about finding your own way in life that helps you create a personally fulfilling path. Dozens of people were interviewed for their stories, and URLs are given for reading more of those people’s experiences. Most chapters also include an exercise or two to help you hone your direction and make good decisions for yourself. Quotations and sidebars also help inspire, and give concrete examples of how you don’t need to have a cookie cutter life—unless that’s what you want, of course.

The back of the book contains seven projects that help you create your own path. The projects include things like blogging your interests, selling your goods and services online, traveling, and talking to someone who is already living your Roadmap. This pretty much describes the route I took to self-discovery, but I had to figure it all out the hard way. This book can be your guide.

This video gives a very small glimpse into the television show, and the idea behind it all.

The book also includes a limited membership to the Roadtrip Nation Interview Archive, where you can watch video interviews with thousands of people who have built their lives around their interests. You access this archive with a special code printed in your book.

This is your life, after all. Not anyone else’s. Live your life for yourself. Don’t live someone else’s life. If you are living your passions and someone tells you that you’re doing it wrong, they obviously don’t know you very well.

Roadmap retails for $14.45 and comes out on April 7. I recommend this book to everyone. Seriously. Everyone. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your new graduate. Buy it for your high schooler. Buy it for your retiree parents. Finding your own path is that important, and it’s never too late. Our world needs a variety of thinkers and doers. Including you.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula

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Image By First Second Books

Andi Watson has created a creepy-cute romance with the new graphic novel, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. The Princess is overwhelmed taking care of the business of the Underworld while her father convalescences in bed and complains about his food. In comes a pastry chef vampire, Count Spatula, who sees the stress the Princess is under, and tries to help.

Andi was kind enough to answer a few questions about this sweet gothic tale.

GEEKMOM: What was your inspiration for the story and characters?

ANDI WATSON: As always with a book, several different elements have to come together to spark things off. Most importantly I wanted to create a full length graphic novel for the first time in my career, a challenge I hadn’t met after many years of making comics. At first I was a bit intimidated, knowing I’d have to write the whole thing ahead of time, but that became an advantage as I could go back and forth over the course of the story, adding and taking away scenes and dialogue. I loved being able to clearly see the overall shape of the story, something it’s quite hard to do when I’m serialising. The other inspirations came from my sketchbooks. Both Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula had been lurking in the pages in separate stories for years, but neither of their stories worked alone. It was only when I put them together that the book fell into place. I love it when that happens.

GM: Did you see romance right away for the Princess and Count?

ANDI: One of things I wanted to achieve with the book was tell a relationship story, a romance that would be fun to write and draw. I’ve told “real world” romance stories before, and enjoyed writing the dialogue and creating characters. The slight downside is that I’ve found them a bit less fun to draw. It’s often two or more people in a room talking. That’s a real challenge to keep visually interesting, so I wanted to combine a relationship story with a strong visual element and I found I enjoyed drawing the spooky stuff. Having more freedom to play visually and allowing my imagination a bit more of a free reign was a real treat. That the Princess has the cute bat-wing hair and the Count is a vampire made it extra fun to draw. Add to that, designing all the other characters and I had a blast.

GM: The relationship between the Princess and King changes over the course of the book. What’s the message about father/daughter dynamics?

ANDI: Yes, I thought it would be interesting to explore the family dynamics of who’s in charge and who is driving things behind the scenes. The child has adult responsibilities without being allowed her own choices, while the King enjoys power with none of the obligations. The adult is the child and vice-versa. The shape of the story follows how that balance changes. I’m not sure I have a message about father/daughter dynamics, although I am interested in them, being dad to a daughter myself. One thing that strikes you as a parent very early on is how much and how little power you have over your kids. On the one hand you’re completely responsible for every aspect of their lives, on the other you can’t make a child eat, you can’t make them sleep, and you can’t make them stop crying. You are utterly helpless, as any parent with a crying toddler on a long haul flight knows!  As children grow up that divide is less stark but you’re still trying to juggle how much responsibility to give a child and also the anxiety that comes from letting them go little by little. Perhaps this whole book is about my daughter becoming a teenager and my wanting to take to my bed and hide!

GM: The Count’s fun desserts like Mud Monster Cake and Lemon Drizzle Cake were charming to see and imagine the taste! Do you bake? What’s your favorite dessert to make or eat?

ANDI: Yes, I began baking with my daughter when she was little. We both enjoyed making a mess and eating the results. I hadn’t baked since school so it was the perfect way to begin again as the emphasis was on fun and play, not on some exquisitely presented end product. As long as it was edible we were happy. I’ve continued baking over the years, which is why it was a joy to invent the Count’s set-piece desserts. My job was to flick through recipe books and doodle ideas in my sketchbook… it was tough, I tell you. Sadly, my own skills fall well short of the Count’s, but I do enjoy making quick and simple recipes like cookies, rock cakes, fairy cakes and the like. I’ll have a go with fondant icing for birthdays. Past projects have included Minions from Despicable Me and a crash landed Tardis. I also made a traditional Yule log over Christmas that turned out all right. The recipe my family likes best is a chocolate cake with Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache. Super sweet and easy to make.

GM: Finally, what project are you currently working on?

ANDI: I have a couple of books in the bag, including my webcomic Princess Midnight which finishes up at the end of January. I’ve also finished a graphic novel for grown ups that I’m hoping to find a publisher for. As for brand new stuff, I’ve finished writing another spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing and aim to have done by the summer.

GM: Thanks, Andi!

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula comes out February 24th by First Second. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

The Classic Style of Marimekko: In Patterns

Image: Chronicle Books
Image: Chronicle Books

Marimekko is a textile design company based in Helsinki, Finland. Some of their designs, such as Unikko, are quite well known, but there are plenty of more obscure patterns as well. Earlier this year, Unikko celebrated 50 years of being awesome, and the company keeps churning out other inspirational designs.

Marimekko: In Patterns takes us on a behind-the-scenes journey through the process of a Marimekko pattern, start to finish. From sketches to fabric to pattern to color to the final quality check, their style is playful, colorful, and, often, simple. You may look at their patterns and think, “I could design that.” But I challenge you to try. Putting together colors and shapes in a way that will guide style and appeal to the people isn’t an easy task. Not every one of their patterns appeals to me, but that’s part of the beauty of the company: There seems to be something for everyone. Dark, light, colorful, monochromatic, modern, classic, organic, and geometric.

Image: Marimekko
The Unikko pattern. Image: Marimekko

The book also digs deeply into some of their classic patterns and their designers, and it profiles several of Marimekko’s designers individually in more depth. While there is plenty of reading to do in this book, it is mostly filled with the patterns and the art that goes into them. It also shares examples of how the designs are used, in clothes and home decor, and on regular bolts of fabric.

Finally, it goes through its history as a company, from design and fashion in the 1950s until the 2000s, and briefly touches on what they have in store for us in the future.

Marimekko: In Patterns retails for $35 but can be found much cheaper. I recommend it to anyone who has a love of classic style, organic and geometric shapes, or Finnish design. This book will inspire you in your next project, be it painting, sewing, photography, or any other creative pursuit.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Book Review: Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo

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Image Credit: Abrams Books

Over the past couple of weeks my family and I had the pleasure of previewing Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo by Meathaus’s Chris McDonnell, to be released on October 14th. In case you hadn’t noticed here, here, and here, I am in an Adventure Time fandom household. My sons look forward to each new episode, and I have loved seeing my sons’ imaginative play and storytelling that have evolved thanks to this show. These stories demonstrate, time and time again, the power of friendship, even in the darkest times. This gorgeous full-color hardcover book will grace coffee tables with elegance.

Yes, you heard right, with elegance.

Even though you might know Adventure Time as a bit dark with its post-apocalyptic themes, my family and I can’t get over how lovely the artwork is. Perhaps you are a fan of the Cartoon Network series and wondered what the writers and artists were thinking with some of the whimsical story arcs and creative artistic rendering…

The Art of Ooo will put everything in perspective for you. The book presents a behind-the-scenes look at the art and storyboards, the writers’ thoughts behind the characters, and interviews with those who voice the characters on the TV show. From concept art to the more sophisticated story lines, you will enjoy over 350 pages and 500 color images.

After an introduction by Mexican fantasy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, the book starts with a biography of the show’s creator and principal animator, Pendleton Ward. You learn that his cartoonist influences came from a variety of seemingly-basic artwork: The Simpsons, Beavis & Butthead, and Doug. You also learn about one of his earliest pieces: Bueno the Bear, whose ears strike quite the resemblance to Finn’s hat.

You then get to learn about the process of pitching the cartoon to Nickelodeon (who had aired one of the earliest episodes on their Random! Cartoons series in 2008), and then to Cartoon Network. You are shown the complete “pitch bible,” and then the 11-minute storyboard of the pilot episode, “The Enchiridion!”

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My youngest son pages through this book every evening while it sits at the center of my coffee table. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

From here, readers will learn about the development of the main title sequence, and then delve into details about each of the characters, starting with Finn and Jake and then taking readers into the backstories of BMO, the Ice King, Princess Bubblegum, and Earl of Lemongrab. You will learn about the details behind the development of Ooo, in terms of settings and colors. This volume will go into such specific settings as the Treehouse and the dungeons.

You will then see concept art, storyboards, and backstories with many of our favorite episodes: “Card Wars” (about which an iOS and Android game exists), “Bad Timing,” “Food Chain,” and “Lady & Peebles” to name a few.

The final chapter, “Beyond Ooo,” is a tribute to Adventure Time‘s fans. Page after page of fan art gets space in this book, with accounts of fans’ tattoos, graffiti, and fan fiction. I made a point to show this chapter to my youngest son, who has quite a bit of Adventure Time fan fiction floating around the house.

Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo, is published by Abrams and will make a fantastic gift for any Adventure Time fan in your life. The book retails for $35, but is priced at about $25 at Amazon.

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Color and Explore With Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book

Photo: Laurence King Publishing
Photo: Laurence King Publishing

Coloring isn’t just for kids. Sometimes we grown-ups need our artsy time. Sometimes we doodle, sometimes we make crafts. But there’s something so meditative and simple about coloring in areas delineated by black lines. And when those black lines are a work of art in and of themselves, even better.

I recently discovered Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The line drawings in this book are so beautiful, I was drawn to them right away. To start, the book cover is filled with ink drawings of plants, flowers, bees, butterflies, and more, all intricately woven together. Occasional flowers and more boast gold foil to set them off. You can take the cover off of the book and color the inside, if you like, because it is drawn in such a way as to invite coloring in.

Photo: Laurence King Publishing
Photo: Laurence King Publishing

The book itself is a brown paperback with more black ink of plants and bugs, and is filled with a backyard of wonderment. Each new scene or shape has little critters hiding, so while you color in the leaves, flowers, and branches, you can also search for frogs, butterflies, bees, birds, keys, snails, and even a treasure chest. (The answer key is in the back.) Some of the pages guide your drawing and coloring, encouraging you to draw song birds or plants, while others are mostly already filled in, and ache for your choice of color. There are mazes in which to get lost. A treehouse. A peacock. Topiaries. A backyard. A flower garden. A wreath. A lantern. Plenty more.

Photo: Laurence King Publishing
Photo: Laurence King Publishing

While Secret Garden is certainly appropriate for slightly older kids who know how to color in the lines when they need to, it is also perfect for grown-ups who love to color fine drawings and who long for nature. The book will encourage you to draw, color, and imagine.

 

 

Reminding me a bit of Zentangles, this book is gorgeous to look at, and is an oh so pleasant place to spend some time. The author’s bio is short and sums up her work very succinctly: “Johanna Basford is an illustrator and ink evangelist who creates intricate and hand-drawn illustrations rooted in the flora and fauna that surrounds her home in rural Scotland.”

Photo: Laurence King Publishing
Photo: Laurence King Publishing

Following the Secret Garden theme, there are journals, postcards, and notecards also available. I was able to see the notecards, which come in a hinged box of 12, patterned after the book. The box is covered in black and white foliage patterns with occasional gold foil thrown in. Inside, there are four styles of card, with designs in circle (with a peacock), square (with a well), heart, and tree shapes. The notecards, while meant for sharing these beautiful images via postal mail, are also suitable (in my opinion) for framing, colored in or not.

Secret Garden and the notecards each retail for $14.95. They are beautiful and are just waiting for you, or someone you love, to add color or lines to the pages.

Note: I received these products for review purposes.

The Return of Zita Wins

Image by First Second
Image by First Second

I read the final book in the Zita trilogy with excitement and a little sadness. Zita the Spacegirl is one of my favorite graphic novels out there: The main character is a girl who is full of courage and kindness, the story brings in such an array of different personalities in both friends and enemies, the plot moves at a great pace, and the artwork and dialogue make my kids and me giggle.

In The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, our young heroine is a prisoner in chains, being charged with “crimes” she did (but for the right reasons…?), persecuted by a corrupt government. Her beloved Mouse is going to be executed. A hooded figure appears, friend or foe? But before anyone can save her, she is stripped of her Strong Strong star, and chucked into a dungeon with only a pile of rags and a skeleton in the corner.

A children’s book? Absolutely! The artwork makes even the nastiest of villains kinda cute, and there is no doubt that Zita will triumph somehow. And that pile of rags and skeleton? Her newest friends! The pile of rags has been in that dungeon so long it evolved into a very nice life form, and the skeleton is more than happy to chat with someone new and offer its fingers and toes as keys to escape. In fact, those two characters develop and change during this story to become a duo my son and I found compelling and sweet.

That’s what this series is all about: You never know what to expect, and Zita doesn’t either. Yet, she knows that friends don’t give up on each other, and everyone should help the helpless, and her conviction changes the universe and every adorable creature she meets.

I’m sad the series is coming to a close, but can’t wait to read what Ben Hatke has in the works next. Plus, my nieces are finally old enough to be introduced to Zita! I get to start from the beginning and share the story of this strong girl facing the silly and unexpected with strength and love.

The Return of Zita will be available in May from First Second. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

This One Summer: Beauty In Realism

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Image By First Second

This One Summer is a new graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It is a YA book that transcends the genre into where most adult novelists wish they could go: honest and nuanced characters in that familiar world you forgot to cherish. The details of a summer beach town, and two girls on the brink of teen, may not be your memories, but the yearnings, confusion, and relationships certainly will reveal half-buried reminisces.

Stories can be told in many ways, but this one is a perfect example of the depth of the graphic novel. Unlike a book of text, the artwork speaks on a level beyond even what the characters appreciate. Unlike a movie, you control the pacing, the ability to linger on that moment of perfect dialogue.

Here is an interview with the creators of This One Summer.

What was the inspiration behind the story and characters of This One Summer? Was there a specific place (or places) that inspired the illustrations?

MT: Originally, my inspiration was my own cottage setting, in Northern Ontario, near a town called Penetanguishene. That was the location of the original corner store, although just about every cottage has something like that, I think, a local place with little to no merchandise that smells like suntan lotion.

For research, though, we were very lucky that Jillian had a friend with a gorgeous cottage up in a similar area, Muskoka. We did what you would call a little research tour up into that area the summer after the script was done and it was very inspiring, and relaxing.

The characters are mostly a mix of people I’ve met in my adult life, not so much the people I knew when I was little and at my own cottage. I’m definitely paying more attention to teens and pre-teens as an adult than I was as a kid. As a kid they were mostly a blur.

Although the main characters are pre-teen girls, dealing with their own friendship and parents, the reader also encounters issues of teen pregnancy and infertility. I see this book for a large age range. When creating the book, did you have a specific age of reader in mind?

MT: I try and keep a story in mind more than a reader. I would hope this is a book that could be read by a wide range of people, and I would guess that they would all probably hone in on different parts of the story.

JT: I think it can trip one up to try to create specifically for certain age groups. Mariko and both naturally gravitate to stories and treatments that appeal to both teen and adult audiences and have been lucky to have publishers that don’t push us into publishing categories. I think kids like stuff with a bit of edge to them anyway.

What do you hope the reader takes at the end of the story?

MT: At the best of times my favorite books are both familiar and a kind of discovery. I hope it evokes for some people some memories of summer times, which are such amazing, if sometimes complex, memories. I hope it’s also a chance to think about all the different kinds of stories and connections that can exist in a small space. Plus I hope some people get lost in it a bit. I love when books do that.

JT: I hope to convey the emotion and sensory feelings of summer, which is both very sweet and melancholy because it’s fleeting. Also the idea of adolescence and seeing things with new eyes. Situations. Relationships. Your family. You develop a sense of nostalgia.

The often harsh dialogue is paced perfectly with the timing of expressions, or a focus on something else in the scene creating beauty in ordinary reality. Was every moment planned out in a script, or did it evolve with the art?

MT: Nothing visual is really planned out in the script.  Sometimes there’s a little setting or some objects that feel part of the story, but all that timing and those moments where text meets illustration is all Jillian.

What writers and artists inspire you?

MT: Writer wise? Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Lynn Coady, and John Green for writing. I’m a big fan of Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Hellen Jo for comics and illustration.

JT: For this book: Alice Munro, Ghibli/Miyazaki… I dunno, that question always befuddles me. How do you isolate what influences a work that takes place over the course of 3 years? Real life. Memory. Our visit to Northern Ontario were all more influential.

I recommend This One Summer for ages 12 and up. The book comes out in May from First Second.

Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

alljoynofun_cover
Image: Ecco/Little, Brown Book Group UK

This book arrived at the perfect time for me, as my parenting confidence was at an all-time low. As a family, we’re adjusting to a new baby who abhors continuous sleep, plus a four-year-old who is currently specializing in challenging behavior. I knew that lack of sleep colors everything negatively, but I was starting to feel like I wasn’t really doing a great job. What I needed was reassurance that my feelings were normal, that other people find this parenting lark as difficult as me. Could All Joy and No Fun really help me understand my feelings about parenting?

The book grew from an article exploring why parents have been observed to be no happier than non-parents, and sometimes are considerably less happy. Children are supposed to fill our lives with unending joy and happiness, so why aren’t parents happier? Guiding us through a selection of reasons why this might be the case, author Jennifer Senior expands on the idea that actually, parenting is a difficult job, especially in modern times, and explores different ways that parents are dealing with these issues. Where this books differs from many of the other scientifically-based parenting books available is that the author looks at research on how children affect their parents, rather than the other way around. She pulls together research from a range of scientific papers, interspersed with interviews with parents from broadly middle-class backgrounds. This makes the text accessible and interesting, as it allows the reader to see how their experiences are similar. I certainly identified with stories of attempting to negotiate with a recalcitrant child and trying to balance the needs of my children with my own needs as a person, not just a mother.

One area which really struck a chord for me is that Senior explains that there is no real way to prepare for a baby. You can paint the nursery and buy a crib, but until the baby arrives, there’s no predicting exactly what looking after an infant entails. This “Transition to Parenthood” is abrupt and can be traumatic, not even taking into account the physical effects of childbirth on the mother. This was very true for me personally. I’d never looked after a baby or even changed a diaper before my daughter arrived. Although I understood the basic concept, the actual day-to-day reality of infant childcare was a shock, especially the lack of sleep. Moving far away from my family has meant that I don’t have relatives available to give me a break, and my friends have children of their own to manage. This puts more pressure onto parents—how can you cope if you don’t have the metaphorical village to help you?

Another aspect which I found interesting was the fact that the trend is for first babies to be born to older mothers. At 33 when my first was born, I wasn’t the youngest in my antenatal class, but neither was I the oldest. At that point, I’d had 12 years after finishing university where I had been an independent adult with my own life and hobbies. Suddenly, along came someone who completely subsumed me and took away my autonomy. Senior suggests that this is more of a shock when you are used to your independence, and that younger parents might find this transition easier. I think that this is something that is even harder for us geeks. We are passionate about things, our hobbies define us in some ways, and they tend to take up a great deal of our free time. For me, my darkroom became a nursery, the time to draw or photograph became consumed by the needs of my infant, and my spinning wheel became dusty in the corner of a room. When I do try to balance my need to be creative with the needs of my children, I find I’m constantly interrupted and unable to reach the state of flow in which the creative activity will actually have a restorative effect.

Flow, that lovely feeling when you’re “in the zone” as athletes describe it, is when you are so engrossed in a task that time seems to stretch and bend. Geeky hobbies, by their very nature, tend to be time-intensive and when your free time is split into two-minute chunks by interruptions, it can be more frustrating than relaxing. For example, some of this article was written on my phone, in the dark, while trying to convince my seven-month-old son that it was time to sleep. This type of interruption to your thoughts can leave you feeling like your life before children has been completely swept away, which is a difficult feeling to cope with.

I particularly enjoyed the sections which talked about how some childhood behavior can be explained by the way that their brains are developing. Biologically, children have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. This section of brain, which is placed just behind the forehead, controls the organization of thought, allows adults to focus on tasks, allows us to plan, and controls inhibitions. No wonder children are so different, as their brains have not yet developed the functions which we as adults consider to be normal. Even though I see this as a teacher and work round it in my lessons, to understand that some of the things which my daughter does that are so infuriating can be explained through the development of her brain was a revelation. It takes the pressure off a little. It’s not our bad parenting which is causing the behavior, four-year-olds really are just like that!

Although this is not a book of advice, one thing which really helped me was that Senior describes a theory of “ego depletion,” which explains why tempers can fray so easily. Suggested by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and columnist John Tierny, it argues that self-control is a limited resource, so that the more you try to hold yourself together in the face of annoyance, the more likely you are to explode at the next infraction. As a teacher, I’ve always been proud of my ability to hold my temper when dealing with children and their annoyances, but recently I’ve found it harder to do that at home. As well as stressing for me how important it is for me to create time for myself, if only two minutes to have a cup of tea while the baby explores a new toy or takes one of his short naps, this theory explains why tempers become more frayed in the evenings in our house. It clarified for me that it’s easier to take a deep breath and not explode at yet another difficult episode with our four-year-old in the morning when we’re rested and have topped up that self-control somewhat overnight.

The interviews with parents are also enlightening. We see parents coping with shift work and young children while trying to divide the workload fairly, parents trying to work from home, and parents trying to deal with the way that their adolescents are moving towards adulthood. One of the most moving parts is the story of Sharon Bartlett, who had adopted her grandson Cameron after his mother had died. Sharon was incredibly committed to Cameron and when she was sadly diagnosed with brain cancer, her only thoughts were for Cameron’s welfare. It shows that parenthood is a broad brush; it comes in all colors and flavors. Sharon embraced the parenthood of a young child again, if only for a short while, and that made Cameron’s life all the richer for it.

This is a very readable book, which covers much more ground than I’ve been able to mention here. I can see myself coming back in years to come to reread the sections about adolescents and the way that their parents are coping, for example. It’s helped me think about parenting in a wider context, particularly how attitudes to children have changed as children are no longer expected to work to support the family. I don’t normally highlight books, but whole passages in my Kindle version are yellow, which says a lot about how much impact this book has had with me.

On the joy side of things, Senior describes the “bursts of grace” which pepper the child-rearing experience. These have been a saving grace for me. I try and burn them onto my brain, so that I can recall them when times are more difficult. The time when my son fell asleep in my arms, smiling, while a Chopin étude played, my daughter’s first steps, and when she said she loved me to the moon and back one hundred times. I’m cutting myself a little more slack these days, and trying to remember that my daughter’s underdeveloped prefrontal cortex is causing her outbursts, not my actions. I read the last chapter of this book in the dark while feeding my son to sleep, his warm smooth fingers holding onto my arm. These are the moments that make things worth it, and it’s these I’m holding onto as my parenting journey continues.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is available now.

For more GeekMom views on parenting and parenting books, have a look at 13 Things That Change When You Go From Geek Girl to Geek MomThere’s More To A Tantrum Than You Realize, and Life With a Spirited Child: A Geek Perspective.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Fangirl is Three Stories in One (and They All Have Strong Female Characters!)

Fangirl © Rainbow Rowell/Pan Macmillan
Fangirl © Rainbow Rowell/Pan Macmillan

For me, nothing beats the times when I’m reading a book and I really, truly, identify with a character. It’s a fairly rare occurrence but when it does happen the bond you form with this fictional person can be intense. Rachel Rowell’s latest young adult novel, Fangirl, had that effect on me.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, an 18-year-old freshman starting her college life at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Cath is a geek and very comfortable in that role. She is obsessed, completely so, by the fictional world of Simon Snow, a book series that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Harry Potter series. Cath is a popular fan fiction author with readers numbering in the tens of thousands, but now she has to find a way to balance completing her epic fanfic Carry On Simon with completing her first year of college. Of course her path isn’t easy. Numerous challenges are thrown in her way including boys, roommates, her manic-depressive dad, and her twin sister Wren who is rapidly going off the rails—and that’s before we get to her actual classes.

Fangirl could easily become something of a cliche, but the dual worlds Rainbow Rowell creates—Cath’s real world and Simon Snow’s World of Mages—are so believable and detailed that you end up falling right in. In between each chapter from Cath’s life, Rainbow throws in snippets from the World of Mages. There are passages from the seven-book canon series (the events in Fangirl occur over the months prior to the eighth and final book’s publication) and excerpts from Cath’s fanfics; there’s even a snippet from a Newsweek article about the rise of the Simon Snow fandom. It’s all mixed in so perfectly that I found myself forgetting that the Simon Snow series doesn’t really exist—I wanted to know how his story ended too.

Art, Wren, Cath, Levi, Reagan & Nick © Noelle Stevenson/Pan Macmillan
Art, Wren, Cath, Levi, Reagan, & Nick © Noelle Stevenson/Pan Macmillan

However, the heart of the Fangirl story is Cath. I identified heavily with her in a way that I rarely have with other fictional characters and on more than just the superficial “oh I prefer to stay home writing fanfic rather than going out partying too” level. Cath comes from a troubled home, but, unlike many tragic backstories, hers doesn’t overwhelm her. She has a loving, close-knit family, just one that’s been through the ringer a little. She is thoroughly likeable without being a doormat and I was happy to see her progress through college life without it changing the fundamentals of who she is. This could easily become a lesson about choosing to live in the “real” world rather than hiding in a beloved fictional one; instead it is about finding the right balance between the two.

One final thing I loved about Fangirl was the sheer quantity of female characters present. Not only do we have Cath, a female protagonist, but we also meet her roommate Reagan, sister Wren, mother Laura, Wren’s roommate Courtney, and Professor Piper. This is in contrast to the two main characters who are male with another two lurking on the sidelines. Even in the world of Simon Snow the number of named female characters equals the boys and Simon’s two best friends (his Ron and Hermione if you like) are both female. It’s really refreshing to read something with such a variety of female characters and I was delighted to see that Cath’s idolized fiction writing professor, who is also a published author, was a woman.

Fangirl is an easy read but it is one that will make you want to keep reading. I fell in love, both with Cath and with her beloved World of Mages, and I wanted their stories to keep going. This is the perfect book for any fangirls you know who are heading to college this year; in fact it’s the perfect story for fangirls of any age. Rainbow Rowell has recently signed a contract to publish some graphic novels and casually dropped the suggestion on her website that “a Simon Snow comic would be so much fun to write.” I for one would love to see that come to fruition because I hope we might get to read more from these two universes one day.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design

Image: Amazon.
Book Cover: Harper Design

Are you looking for a last-minute gift idea for your favorite Tolkien-fan-geek? Look no further than your favorite bookstore for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design by the Weta Workshop, the Wellington, New Zealand special effects company behind the beauty of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

If you are as fascinated by the settings, costumes, and art design as I am, this is the perfect book. It’s a large hard-cover book perfect for prominent display. The high-quality glossy pages are filled with vibrant storyboard pictures, costume design renderings, and short vignettes by the art and design crew members about the senses they were attempting to convey as you progress through the story of The Desolation of Smaug. You will feel the set and costume designers’ passion for the roles they played in the film’s production.

The book is arranged based on the chapters of the original pages of The Hobbit, although, as I’d mentioned in my review of the film earlier this week, there are some plot diversions. These are addressed as well.

Enjoy the behind-the-scenes journeys through Lonely Mountain, Lake-town, Long Lake, the Woodland Realm, and Mirkwood as you learn about Weta’s motivations in design. For example, readers will learn about Lake-town’s Tibetan and Scandinavian influences.

LegolasThrandiulPage
Each of the book’s 208 pages is filled with beautiful storyboards and costume design drawings. Enjoy Legolas here in all his glory! Image: Weta Workshop.

This book makes an outstanding companion to the film; its intended audience is someone who has already read the book and/or seen the film. There are spoilers in the book, so be sure your gift recipient knows the story already!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design retails for $39.99 and is available at book retailers nationwide, to include Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Whoosh Into the World of Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom menu screen
The Room on the Broom app uses the fabulous illustrations from the book.
© Magic Light Pictures

Is there room on the broom for an app like this?

With Halloween approaching, I have been pulling out books to read to my daughter which fit the season. We’ve enjoyed Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly’s Dangerous Alphabet, Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul’s Winnie the Witch, and of course, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Room on the Broom. We love the fantastic rhyming tale of the rather clumsy witch, battling against the elements and a hungry dragon to keep hold of her belongings and her familiars. The book has already been translated into a film and stage version, but would it work well as an app?

The app makes great use of Alex Scheffler’s illustrations, meaning that it really feels like the book has come alive. Rather than an interactive version of the book, instead the app extends the book with a series of eight games designed to develop memory and observation skills. There is the opportunity to earn bronze, silver, and gold medals for meeting challenges in each game, which I thought was a nice touch as this ramps up the difficulty very gradually, making things more accessible for children at the younger end of the suggested 3-7 age range. Some of the games are simple point and click challenges where children have to find a hidden object from the story, such as the witch’s hat or wand. Other games are more challenging, such as the game where children have to spot the correct letters and steer the magnificent broom over them to create words from the story. My daughter’s favorite game involves setting out stars into patterns that are then joined by the witch on her broomstick. The stars can be moved around to create all sorts of patterns and pictures. I thought that this could be an interesting game to use from a more educational and problem solving angle, as children could use the stars to draw letters or numbers such as this “m for mummy” which my daughter created.

Drawing with stars
My daughter created an M using the drawing with stars game.
Screenshot: Helen Barker

As well as the unmistakable illustrations, the app also uses music from the film version to add to the atmosphere. It’s been really nicely done and captures the mood of the book really well. There’s lots here to keep children interested and coming back for more, making the £2.99/$4.99 price good value. My daughter loved playing with the app and it is already one of her favorites. I think this app will keep her attention long past Halloween.

The Room on the Broom app is available for £2.99 from the iTunes App Store or Google Play and Amazon stores for Android. You can visit the Room on the Broom website for more information, including links to purchase the app as well as hints for the games.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Talk Like a Pirate Day: When Pirates Get Sad

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

My niece is an intense, sweet girl who loves pirates. She and I often play pirates together. She and I also hug a lot because her emotions can be overwhelming. For her sixth birthday, I wrote her a pirate story giving her tools to try when she’s feeling sad. I asked my son Luke to draw some cute stick figures for illustrations.

There is a famous pirate tune I’m playing in the background of this video. Can you guess it?

Enjoy!

Sookie Scores the Plot

Deadlocked cover
Image By Penguin Group

There’s this little series on HBO called True Blood. You might have heard of it. You may have even heard it’s based on a series of books. But who has time to read when there’s great sex and gore on TV?

Find. The. Time.

Charlaine Harris‘ series about Sookie Stackhouse has been one of my favorite since before HBO grabbed onto it. (Yeah, I got cred, baby.) I remember seeing the cover art for Dead to the World at my local library years ago and being intrigued; I was bored with the artistic style of most fantasy covers. Then I read the back. Vampire romance? Mystery? Bleh. Not my thing. I challenged myself to read some of it just to prove that I didn’t want to read it. The fact that it was the fourth book in the series would almost guarantee I wouldn’t like it.

My subconscious knew what it was doing. The book was sexy, fun, had an intriguing plot, and the heroine kicked ass while still managing to be a down-to-earth woman trying to make sense of it all. I quickly went back to my library for the first three books, and then waited for more. Along with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Files, this is my favorite fantasy series.

But something changed in the Sookie books later on. Bad things always happened to the main character, but now really bad stuff started to happen, and she wasn’t able to bounce back. Sookie reacted very much like a real person. Unfortunately, it gave the series a darker tone (and we started with vampires, so that’s saying a lot). I blame it on Hurricane Katrina making the author sad. I heard Charlaine Harris speak about Deadlocked, on the radio. She said at one point in the series she started adding all these new elements because she had started to become bored. And when that didn’t help she realized it was time to end it all. There will be one more book and that’s that for Sookie.

The series began with lots of romance, gripping mystery, rounded characters, and some yippee sex scenes. With Deadlocked we have an intense mystery, fully-developed characters, and relationship issues. I read the book in a day, unable to put it down because Harris knows how to write plot. But I miss the romance, and the sex used to be so good. Sigh…

Still, I can’t wait to read the next one.

Hammer of Witches

TU Books

 

“My uncle’s meaningful stare pierced right through me. “Dashed off, leaving a child in my arms.”                                                                                 By that time in my life, I’d heard enough fairy tales to know what a sentence like that meant. Until then, though, I’d never known what it felt like to be part of such a story. The end of my uncle’s tale was so obvious, so inevitable, and yet I could hardly believe the words.”

Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski is all about stories: fairy tales, religious texts, and history. She takes what we know of Columbus’ voyage to America  and uses it as the backdrop about a boy learning the power of words, and the magic behind the meaning of stories. It’s a good book.

Historical fantasy is not a genre I have read before. The heroic tale of Columbus that I learned in school was soured by the brutal reality when I learned about that same voyage as an adult. After her fictional tale ends, Mlawski takes several pages to explain what parts in the book were based on historians best guesses of what really happened, and what she played around with for the sake of a good yarn. I’m impressed with how much truth she wove into a story filled with witches, genies, and magic!

Set in 1492 Spain, Baltasar Infante is our hero, and he’s an optimistic, chatty teen boy with multiple layers to his own story; a story he learns about slowly as the book progresses. Baltasar has grown up under the threat of the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition. His parents were Christian converts, once Jews, but killed by the Inquisition. Yet he learns that he is part Muslim as well. This blending of faiths, and the stories they hold, is a source of conflict and ultimately strength for Baltasar. But this is not a book about religion, it’s a book of adventure and magic.

Through a series of events, Baltasar must go on the run to avoid the Malleus Maleficarum, and to destroy or be destroyed by the hero-turned-traitor Amir al-Katib. He joins Columbus’ crew to find a new sea passage to Cathay. Baltasar learns that he has the magic to summon creatures at will, but only creatures from stories he knows, and to summon them takes an intimate understanding of the truths within them. Yet, he learns there are many interpretations to the same story, and many truths that can be hard to accept. But he has a genie named Jinniyah to help him, and eventually a cool friend named Catalina, a fellow magic user.

Mlawski’s prose is fluid and colorful. The characters grow, and the story is unique within the setting of familiar history. I am always interested in new takes on magic, and the idea of understanding tales as the source of power really appealed to me. I recommend Hammer of Witches for junior high and up.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Master Davey and The Magic Tea House: Save the Special Tea

Image By Booksicals

As a tea geek that loves to share my obsession with the young’uns in my life, I was excited to review Master Davey and The Magic Tea House: Legend of the Blue Tiger written by Susan Chodakiewitz and David De Candia, and illustrated by Kent Yoshimura.

The art is a treat! Bright colors with dancing swirls and paper cut-out patterns are the heart of this fable. Every page shows the main action, but there are details everywhere to keep children going back and discovering more (kind of like savoring the multiple flavors in a cup of tea). I wish I could read Chinese characters because every person in this story has one drawn on their ear and I want to know what they mean! I’ll have to ask a friend. There is even a game within the book to find hidden (English) words; enter them online at the site to unlock more fun. Plus, there’s a unique tea blend that goes with the book.

In this fable the hero must overcome three problems to save the day. We start off in Master Davey’s tea shop, which I totally want to visit. Master Davey encourages the main character, Hopper, to explore the complex and imaginative flavors of the teas he serves.

“What do you smell Hopper? What do you smell?”

“A bouquet of flowers…and a summer breeze…”

One brew, Blue Tiger Tea, is the most precious of teas and will be lost to the world forever due to pest problems in the one field where it grows in China. Through the magic of tea, Hopper is able to travel to China where he meets Camellia, whose family has no more seeds to plant. Together they travel to magical places where Hopper uses his courage to finally meet the Blue Tiger and get more seeds, helping Camellia’s family replant the special tea.

I enjoyed reading this book to my two young nieces. My only issue was gender. Stereotypically, the most powerful characters in the story are male (Hopper and the Blue Tiger), and the legend that is repeated several times is, “a boy that will save the Blue Tiger Tea.” While reading it to them, I changed “boy” to “child” so my listeners could at least imagine themselves as heroes in this story.

They were captivated by the art, and the phrase, “two leaves and a bud”—reference to the parts of the tea plant Hopper and Camellia help pick—stuck in my four-year-old niece’s head. Afterwards, my nieces and I picked our own tea (several mints, lemon balm, and lime-basil from my garden) and my littlest niece skipped along with a basket repeating her phrase over and over happily. We all went inside and had a tea party, revisiting our favorite pages of this lovely book.

Master Davey and the Magic Tea House will be available September 1, 2013.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Stormdancer: The Lotus War Book One

Thomas Dunne Books
Thomas Dunne Books

Japanese steampunk. Yeah, I said Japanese steampunk. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff is a dystopian feudal Japan setting with Iron Samurai wielding chainsaw katanas. Chainsaw katanas.

The world of Shima was once bound with nature and the spirits, but the destructive spiral of industrialization , war and corruption, has polluted the land to the brink of unsustainable collapse. The Lotus Guild, the ruthless clockwork makers, are in a tense tug of power with the sadistic Shogun.

After the first couple of chapters I had to share how cool the setting was with my fourteen year old son. His eyes grew wide at the seamless blending of traditional Japan with gears and piston engines.

“Was Japan like that at all?” He asked. And then I launched into how Japan was forced into the industrial world via Commodore Perry. This led to me waxing poetically about the movie The Last Samurai, going on and on until we talked about what it would be like if aliens invaded and we had to adapt to such foreign technology, etc, etc. Until I realized my son was using this conversation as an excuse to stop doing his homework. Back to work! And I got back to my book…

Stormdancer is like a great kung-fu movie, where violence really can solve most of your problems. The heroine Yukiko is compassionate: she saves puppies and gives her last coins to a beggar woman. But Yukiko is also brave and will never stop fighting; even as she slips into unconsciousness, she is groping for her knife. Yukiko can slice your up, and if she somehow can’t, then her freakin’ THUNDER TIGER will!

That’s the best part of this book, the growing relationship between Buruu, a mythological thunder tiger, and Yukiko. It is done at a beautiful pace.  The stormdancer fight scene (not going to explain that further so as not to ruin it for you) is the highlight of the book. I actually put the book down to imagine it again in slow motion. So cool.

The plot is revenge on the small scale, and complete governmental destruction on the larger plan of the series. The body count is incredibly high in this book, and so many characters die, I was getting concerned of who would be around for the rest of the series. The bad guys are really, really evil. They are so evil that you know there is only one option: cold, very bloody, horrible death.

This is not a book about nuance. Like I said, it is a well-done kung-fu movie, but with a female heroine, and a detailed new fantasy setting. That said, there is one side character that seemed less legendary, more real: Kin. He is a guildsman, one of the makers of the industry, but he is struggling to break free of his metal skin. Will he be able to? Not sure, but I’m curious about his journey.

This book is upper YA for violence. My son wanted me to just tell him the basic story instead of reading the bloody details himself. I picked up the book at my local book store because I completely judge a book by its cover and the artwork is truly cool. Exciting read!

Don't Miss Danica McKellar's Latest Math Book, Girls Get Curves

Girls Get Curves
Image: Hudson Street Press

Geometry was one of my favorite kinds of math. I loved learning how shapes worked, and even memorizing theorems and postulates. I especially enjoyed the challenge of doing geometric proofs. I looked at them like logic puzzles, forcing me to find a way from point A to point B using only the tools I knew up to that point. But I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones, girls who naturally like math, in and of itself. Not all girls are that lucky, however, and Danica McKellar writes books for those girls.

Next in Danica’s series of books aimed at middle school girls is Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape. Along with her other books (Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed!), Girls Get Curves lays out math concepts in a way that many girls that age will understand, using math to describe such things as making assumptions about people, and using stories to describe parallelograms. Full of concrete and well-explained mathematical concepts, Danica inserts plenty of asides, stories, and cute, “girly” drawings among the angles, tangents, and proofs. She puts concepts that might be new or difficult to understand in terms that kids can understand, and relating to things with which they are already familiar.

Continue reading Don't Miss Danica McKellar's Latest Math Book, Girls Get Curves

Art, Sex and Beautiful Men

Relying on seductive art to draw in your audience is akin to a comedian swearing. It doesn’t take skill to get a reaction.

There have been several recent posts GeekMom and elsewhere about the sexualization of women in comics. Although that’s nothing new, female geeks are finally getting fed up- realizing that being loyal and vocal fans does not grant any respect in the industry.

The discussions on the internet got me thinking about a conversation I had last summer with an artist friend of mine. We were on our way back from ConnectiCon where he had worked with his art and enjoyed chatting with other artists. He excitedly told me about a woman next to him who showed him her “boobie pictures.” Her out-front display was cartoon cats, but she showed him her Adults Only folder with mostly women in sexy poses with big breasts. She encouraged him to display his own “boobie pictures” because they’re fun to draw and sell really well. She said both women and men like pictures of sexy, naked women.

He then waxed poetically about the female figure in fine art, explaining to me how the female form is universally recognized as most beautiful. He talked about slope, curve, and roundness, about masters in the art world, and famous paintings and sculptures. He has a degree in Fine Art and I had no reason to doubt him.

The following day I departed to teach at a teen music camp up in the Adirondacks. The conversation with my friend would not leave me, and I realized I disagreed. However, I’m a musician, what do I know about art? But as the week progressed, I couldn’t let it go.

At a break time by the beach, I informed a fellow counselor about the whole thing. I explained that I don’t find the female form to be any more beautiful than the male form, in fact, I think men are MORE beautiful than women. Why? Because I’m freakin’ attracted to them- duh! And if the masters of the art world, and the majority of art teachers are straight men, then they are going to believe that women are more beautiful because they are attracted to them. Isn’t that obvious? Why should art have all these depictions of naked women? I shouted loudly, “I want more naked men!”

My counselor friend chuckled softly, and slightly uncomfortably. Perhaps this was because we were currently next to cavorting teens of both sexes in swimwear. Did I mention this was a Catholic music camp?

Anyway, comics are just the latest incarnation of the oldest way to show a story (music is the oldest way to tell a story.) I appreciate art with an uneducated eye. This does not devalue my opinion in any way. I know this because the value of an uneducated musician’s opinion is very worthy to me when I write my own music. If someone doesn’t like it, I don’t care how many degrees they have.

Comics are obviously marketed towards men. The covers are to attract the twelve year-old, straight boy’s eye. Do men purchase because of hyper-sexed women and powerful men bursting out of the pages? I know I purchase despite the covers, hoping there’s a good story inside, and wondering why a woman fighter would ever have that much skin exposed. Is it eye-catching? Of course. So is this:

Another Back By Akseru

Would I purchase a novel solely on this cover? My stereotypes tell me this would be called Fields of Passion. And unless the hot guy on the cover is going to come out of the book and snuggle with me while I’m reading, I wouldn’t buy it. I like plot (call me wacky) and many books geared towards women, the ones with hot men on the cover, are sorely lacking in it. That is why I pick up stories with a scantily dressed woman on the cover calling down lightning.

If I told a heterosexual man that Fields of Passion was a gripping tale he really would enjoy, would he try it out? Would he hide the book from friends? Do women hide the “boobie pictures” spilled on our favorite comics? It is taught in library school that girls will read a book with a boy or girl on the cover. Boys are rarely drawn to books with a girl on the cover.

So men only care about stories involving women if they are seducing them?

And women just want a good story?

The picture above is a sexy picture I found while perusing deviantart (some people watch YouTube videos, I browse artwork.) The Greeks believed the male form was the most perfect (and this is not because Greeks were fine with being gay; homosexual practices depended on the city-state) and women were rarely depicted in the nude until late in the age. Why don’t we acknowledge that any human body can be made beautiful by a skilled artist?

But you know, I don’t need a skin shot to catch my eye. All you need is a talented artist who can capture a moment, and I want to know more.

Unison IV By Lukas Sowada

Do I really want more naked men in graphic novels? If the scene requires it- I’m more than happy to drink in the sight. For that matter, I don’t mind looking at a beautifully drawn naked woman. Sex is part of life, a part of stories- a very exciting part! But if it doesn’t follow the plot, then no thank you.

Are the top graphic artists so talentless that they can’t create eye-catching, beautiful art without sex attached- women and sex to be specific?

I am not an artist, but I love art. I love beauty. I love stories.

Don’t give me swear words.

Disney’s “It’s a Small World” Interactive iOS App

Loading Screen of the "It's a Small World" App © Disney
Loading Screen of the “It’s a Small World” App © Disney

Anybody who knows me personally will know that I am an enormous Disney geek. Interestingly, for me it is not so much about the films as it is the theme parks. There are paintings all over our house of the parks, I have a collection of plates and collectables and several boards full of trading pins. The best present I received this Christmas was a surprise from my husband, a set of figures based on characters who appear only (or mostly) in the parks, the yeti from the Matterhorn, Figment from EPCOT and a Ghost from the Haunted Mansion were included amongst others. So when I heard that Disney were releasing a story app based on one of their most beloved (or possibly infamous) rides, “It’s a Small World” – I absolutely had to try it out.

I will first answer the question that every single person familiar to that ride is currently asking, yes it does include the song. However this is a version of the song that has been toned down to more instrumental and melodic background music, rather than the invasive song well known to Disney park patrons. The music hums away in the background and provides a perfect score to the story without being intrusive. That’s until you get to the very end when the chorus of the original song pipes up on repeat until you hit the menu button and you’re stuck with it in your head for the rest of the day.

All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney
All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney

The story itself is based on the lyrics and take the reader on a journey through a series of beautiful settings based on different countries and cultures. Each scene is accompanied by a single line from the song and features a variety of interactive elements that can be activated by clicking on parts of the image. Clicking an animal might cause it to make a noise, a boat might sail off across the sea or a child might laugh and blow a kiss. The app automatically pans across the image, however you can use your finger to drag the image back and revisit parts of it. All sorts of countries and cultures are represented from the Arctic to Africa, Japan to London.

The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney
The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney

Inbetween scenes a hot air balloon sails onto the screen to take you on the next stage of the journey as the scene loads. If left alone, the app will automatically work its way through each line/scene of the song, however the menu does give you the option to jump to any you choose through a nicely designed animated scrolling wheel. This can be accessed at any time throughout your journey and also allows you to return to the home page.

The day after I received this app, I switched it on and handed my phone over to my two year old. Despite the app being rated 4+, my son found it easy to get to grips with; he was quickly poking at things and getting dogs barking and bagpipes playing (in case it isn’t obvious – this is NOT a quiet app.) I do have to admit that the app hasn’t held his attention for long, however I can honestly say that I think this is simply a phase he is going through as none of his previously favoured apps have been left running very long lately either. Because of the auto scrolling, he was able to move through the different screens without needing my help and if his attention span was longer, he could easily have worked through the full app.

The word "laugh" appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney
The word “laugh” appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney

The app would also work well as a simple short story book for an older child, each line is spoken aloud so no reading skills are required, however the words are printed on screen for those learning to read. Do remember however that as this story is based on song lyrics, there are not that many lines so the app’s value as a “learning to read” tool is limited. Certain characters also produce a written word that relates to the action they are performing when they are tapped, these are simple words such as “give” and “laugh.” The app contains one other small feature, a karaoke screen which sings the chorus with the words up on screen and a traditional karaoke bouncing along on top of them. This is the same screen that appears at the end of the story but it can be accessed directly from the main menu. I suggest you don’t tell your kids about it if you ever want to get the song out of your head.

As a Disney park enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed this app and would happily sit and watch the story unfold even by myself. I would love to see a range of these interactive story apps based on other Disney park rides – the Haunted Mansion being my number one desire – and if this is the quality benchmark then I’d be very happy indeed. If you’re not a Disney fan this app won’t win you over, however given the subject I feel that an app like this was always aimed at existing enthusiasts rather than a more casual market. All together this is a beautiful looking app with a simple interface and lots of fun to be had within, please make more Disney.

“It’s a Small World” is available for iPhone and iPad for $3.99/£2.49. A copy of this app was provided free for review.

 

Review of The Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham

 

Electronic cover image of The Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham

This past Halloween weekend, I spent my nights engrossed in a book of short stories that was well-written, intriguing, and surprisingly, incredibly hard to put down. The Whisper Jar, by author Carole Lanham, speaks to the little kid in us grown-up GeekMoms that still like fairy tales, but with a deliciously wicked and weird twist.

The book was released October 31st, 2011, fittingly on Halloween, from Morrigan Books. According to her website biography, Carole Lanham has published twenty-four short stories and one novella since she began writing full time in 2004. Seven of her stories have received honorable mentions in Year’s Best volumes, one story was short-listed for the Million Writer’s Prize, and one was chosen as a Notable Story of the Year in 2008 for the Million Writer’s Prize. She has won two writing contests and two of her stories made the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker award for Outstanding Achievement in a Short Story. She is also a monthly contributor at Storytellers Unplugged.

Carole Lanham, the Horror Homemaker. Image from her website.

Carol contacted me via Good Reads, after noting that I gave positive reviews to History is Dead, edited by Kim Paffenroth, in which her story, The Moribund Room, was published in a few years ago. The collection The Whisper Jar opens with a long poem, titled after the book, that lets the reader know exactly what a whisper jar is and how it is used. I loved the poem and found myself reading it aloud. Seven stories and another poem follow, each its own separate tale. I can’t really say that I had a favorite; every time I finished one and decided I liked it the most, the next one would make me change my mind.

Carole must have known what she was doing when she contacted me to review this book. How could I not love a collection of stories that include vampires, fairies, zombies, and more? The best part is that she doesn’t reinvent anything here; Ms. Lanham made the creatures her own by creating characters that are altogether interesting and disturbing, to say the least. I wouldn’t recommend this book to children, but it may be okay for older teenagers. There is no graphic sexuality, but it is implied. The only gripe I have about the book is that I wish it was longer. That really can’t be a bad thing to say about someone’s writing, though, can it?

If I had to give it a numbered review, I would give it four out of five. I would recommend it to readers who like books like My Mother She Killed Me, My Father She Ate Me, a collection of fairy tales edited by Kate Bernheimer, or the graphic novels Fables from Vertigo Comics. Below is a listing of the stories and poems in The Whisper Jar.

  • The Whisper Jar
  • The Good Part
  • Keepity Keep
  • The Blue Word
  • Maxwell Treat’s Museum of Torture for Young Girls and Boys
  • Friar Garden, Mister Samuel, and the Jilly Jally Butter Mints
  • The Reading Lessions
  • The Adventures of Velvet Honeybone, Girl Werewuff
  • The Forgotten Orphan

You can visit Carole Lanham online at horrorhomemaker.com and carolelanham.com. Links to purchase her books, including The Whisper Jar, are on her websites.

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author for review purposes.

Lauren Myracle Asked To Withdraw From National Book Award Finals

Image: http://www.laurenmyracle.com

Lauren Myracle is the author of several young adult books that have gotten a lot of attention, both good and bad. Her books were among the most challenged in school libraries in 2009 due to scenes that deal with controversial subjects such as homosexuality and drug use.

Her book Shine was a finalist for a National Book Award for young adult’s literature. But she was asked to withdraw her book from consideration, which she did. It was announced that another book would become a finalist around the same time. That book, Chime by Franny Billingsley, was suppose to be the book originally nominated according to the National Book Foundation. There is a rumor that the close spellings of the titles of the books is what caused the mix-up, but that has not been confirmed or denied by the National Book Foundation.

The National Book Foundation has apologized for the mix up but it has made them look a little foolish. It has also given Lauren Myracle quite a bit of publicity as a result.

For me, I hadn’t heard of Lauren Myracle, even though I am a fan of young adult books. Now I’m interested in reading some of her books, including Shine, since they sound interesting. She is also from Brevard, North Carolina, fairly close to where I live, which makes me even more interested in checking her books out.

You can go to the LA Times to read more about this story.

Relive the Early Years With John Booth’s Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years

John Booth, fantastic writer and good friend of mine, takes us back 30 years, sharing his myriad and detailed memories of being an early Star Wars fan in his book, Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years. John has been a Star Wars geek from the very beginning, being the right age when the original movies came out. At one point more recently, he decided to write down all of his recollections surrounding any part of Star Wars history, and has collected them into a fantastic book.

Each chapter in the book is a bit of a vignette, with plenty of detail and some stream of consciousness, as memories usually have. In between are sections entitled Proof of Purchase, each one a much shorter vignette, often addressing a more tangible memory of an item, such as an action figure or a cake. As I measure life by where I lived and by the birth of my children, John includes Star Wars events and dates in his life measurements.

John’s book inspires others to share their Star Wars memories as well. I, myself, was only four years old in 1977, so my memories are fewer than John’s, who is a couple of years older. But I still have my original Star Wars trading cards (with the blue border) and a few of the Return of the Jedi ones (with the red border), and still hold out hope that my R2-D2 action figure will turn up in a box. I also remember the month when I was a kid that HBO played Star Wars on frequent repeat, and I saw it probably 20 times that month. That contributed to the fact that I can practically recite the entire movie, even to this day.

John is masterful in recreating how it felt for him (and countless other Star Wars fans that were kids at the time) when he coveted that new Star Wars guy, or when he arranged his sets, or when the next movie was coming out and the anticipation was killing him. John can paint a picture with his words that pulls you into the story instantly.

John’s childhood interpretation of Marvel Comics Star Wars issue #5. Photo used with permission.

Obviously the book has a star destroyer full of Star Wars references, but I love how he also inserts them when you aren’t expecting it: “They were just swordfighters, no matter how clumsy and random they thought blasters were.”

Throughout the book, John talks about his friends and classmates by first names only. We have no idea exactly who his first-named friends were. But we aren’t meant to, and it isn’t important to the story. John is just letting us into his childhood, to help us relive our own, or to see what we missed by being born at the wrong time. Or for those who perhaps weren’t lucky enough to get into Star Wars the first time around.

Throughout the book, John inserts his own form of humor, which only adds to the pleasure of reliving Star Wars memories. John is very clever and this comes out in his writing.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when he includes his recollections of writing with a friend a continuation of the story following Return of the Jedi. That story is actually incredibly creative and certainly no more cheesy than the original storylines. I wish John and his friend had done more with it at the time.

It was great to learn more about the movies themselves, especially The Empire Strikes Back, through the eyes of a child, including the impressions and some misconceptions that come with being so young. Personally, I only actually remember seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater, but I know I saw them all. I had just been too young to remember the occasions of seeing the others. (Of course my family made up for that with countless Star Wars movie retrospectives at home when I was a kid. Thanks, Mom!)

John with the Death Star. Photo used with permission.

Some of John’s writing stirred memories in me that I’d only just forgotten, buried just under the surface. One example was about Luke’s fight with Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi where Luke cut off Vader’s hand, and then the camera showed Luke looking at his own gloved hand. Like John, I, too, thought that somehow Vader’s hand had ended up on Luke!

John’s conversational style in this book helps along the feeling that you are reminiscing together, that he’s telling you a story while being in the same room. You can feel his enthusiasm coming through.

A little over halfway through the book, the story takes a more serious turn, still telling John’s Star Wars tale but through the eyes of a young adult going through regretful experiences and other events. Star Wars still had an influence on his life at that point, but it had evolved into a slightly different kind of influence. This part was hard for me to read, mostly because I know John personally, and have also had some of my own regretful experiences at that time in my life.

John eventually gets to the prequels and deals with them fairly. They can’t compare to the originals, but they were better than nothing. (Maybe, says me.) In all, the book is a very personal look at one boy/man’s journey through the Star Wars universe.

The book is also available as an ebook, which has plenty of bonus material. In the ebook, after the main narrative, John has included interviews, updates, and extras. John’s writing here is a bit different, though. You get to see his journalistic side, his more polished and less personal side.

Star Wars has always been there for John Booth. Through the good times and the bad, from his youth to adulthood and parenthood. Thanks to John, I was reminded of my own childhood, with our family Star Wars retrospectives, frequent Star Wars cable TV airplay, and continually recited lines.

With Collect All 21!, you get the complete Star Wars memory of one John Booth.

Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years can be gotten as a printed book for $14.95, or now in a special, expanded electronic edition, like I read it, for $7.99 on the Kindle or the Nook. Also, visit the electronic publisher’s page for a link for a free excerpt! Regardless of what method you use to read the book, it is a unique look into the evolving Star Wars universe through the eyes of one who appreciates it immensely. I highly recommend it to anyone who lived through the Star Wars years from the beginning, and to those who wish they did.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons by Shelly Mazzanoble

Image: shellymazzanoble.com

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons by Shelly Mazzanoble is a wonderful take on a how to book on life that centers around Dungeons & Dragons.

The book showcases life lessons that playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) can help you with, such as religion, moving in with a significant other, dealing with your parents, changing up your routine and more through Shelly’s life as she lives in Seattle and works for Wizards of the Coast. There is even a whole chapter on kids and parenting that includes a list of books from GeekDad authors.

This book was really easy for me to read. If I hadn’t had things like work, school and a toddler to care for, I would have probably read it in one sitting. I enjoyed reading about Shelly’s adventures, both in real life and as a D&D character. It also made me really miss playing D&D quite a bit, and role playing in general. I’d love to get out my dice and roll up a character to help work out some of my issues.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons is currently available in traditional paperback, Kindle and Nook versions. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially folks who love gaming, D&D in particular.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Antletics: A Longer and More British Storybook App

Image: Antletics

I’ve seen and reviewed a fair number of storybook apps in the past, and the market is saturated with books for preschoolers—well-packaged, but not terribly interesting books that are pretty much the same as the print book versions. So when I see one that isn’t just like all the others, that is for school-age kids and has a less-than-predictable storyline, I am happy.

One such storybook is Antletics: Episode One: Archie and the Mysterious Sphere. Recorded by a man with a lovely and expressive English accent, the long, rhyming story takes readers/listeners on the journey of one ant in his quest to learn about a mysterious sphere.

Image: Antletics

On each page of the storybook, kids can have the story read to them as many times as they wish, and they can interact with one or more parts of the scene. There is even a magic wand which reveals the parts of the scene that have action. Kids can also tap on highlighted words in the text which gives more information, trivia, or a definition for the word. For example, tapping on “four” brings up information about The Fab Four/The Beatles. Tapping on “ajar” gives a definition of the word. Each highlighted word screen allows you to connect via Facebook as well.

Image: Antletics

When viewing the story on my iPad, there were some graphical issues, causing parts of the screen to jump a bit when the images move around or zoom out, but this motion happens only occasionally in the book so it doesn’t really detract from the story reading or scene interaction experiences.

Antletics: Episode One: Archie and the Mysterious Sphere is only 99 cents in the iTunes store. For kids who love long rhyming stories and scene interaction, this storybook app is a great choice.

Note: I received a copy of the app for review purposes.

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GeekMom Rewind: The Reluctant Harry Potter Fan Looks Back

Image: Scholastic Books

I had every reason in the world not to read Harry Potter. I just wasn’t going to do it. Oh, people told me I ought to. “You like hobbits! You like magic! You like elves!” But I didn’t see the point. I had my beloved books. And by the time the craze was really hitting, I was in college. College kids have no need for silly books about schools of magic, for goodness’ sake. I was an English major. I had literature to read.

Right?

So how was it that I ended up walking to the library one afternoon and, instead of getting books and journals to study, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? I’m not sure. I was fully prepared to hate it. To loathe it. To laugh and point and mock. To call up my Harry Potter fan friends and ask them why exactly they thought I, a serious student of the English Language, would ever stoop to read such drivel.

But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. The next morning (since I stayed up all night reading the first book) I marched over to the library to get the next one. Then the third. The fourth, that wasn’t available. I had to get it from a friend. I dropped by her dorm room, kind of strung out, begging for the book and then bobbing my head, thanking her profusely when she handed it over. Ah, that smooth dust jacket. I can still remember.

So, suffice it to say, the books hooked me. They hooked me like books hadn’t in a long time. At that point in my life I really needed something like Harry Potter. Something to remind me of the simplicity of good story-telling, about magic and whimsy. Sure, Rowling commits some serious crimes against adverbs. She takes a great deal from medieval mythology and legend; her Latin isn’t exactly polished.

But you know what? None of that mattered when I was reading. Because for that week during midterms, during which I should have been studying, I was transported somewhere else. I really wanted to enroll at Hogwarts. I was a kid again. Worrying about grades and dorm-room drama, all that just melted away for a time.
Continue reading GeekMom Rewind: The Reluctant Harry Potter Fan Looks Back

How Audio Books Helped Me Stay Sane

Infants sleep less than you may think (Image: Mandy Horetski)

When my daughter was a newborn, and nursing what seemed to be all the time, I had a hard time not being bored out of my mind. During the day, it wasn’t as much of a problem because I had the TV and computer to keep me amused.

At night, especially when she woke up in the middle of the night for an hour long (or more) nursing session, I’d feel like I was going insane. I had one of those pillows that let me sit up in bed, and my daughter slept in a pack & play next to our bed.

I would look enviously at my husband as he slept without hearing our baby cry, while I’d get up to nurse. I was fairly comfortable in bed, but I didn’t want to fall asleep so I was just sitting there staring at the walls.

I really don’t remember how I came across audio books, but I do remember it was a godsend. I started with the Harry Potter audio books, which are wonderful, and expanded my audio library from there. It was wonderful because my mind was able to be engaged while my daughter nursed at night.

Now that she is 2 1/2 years old, I don’t listen to audio books as much. I do when I’m putting her down for her nap and at bedtime. But it takes me longer to get through an audio book now since she does sleep through the night.

I’d recommend audio books for any new mom – there are lots of geeky books to choose from and can be put on an MP3 player. I know that these really helped save my sanity in the early days of my daughter’s life.